Deepwater Wind operates an offshore wind plant, the five-turbine Block Island...

Deepwater Wind operates an offshore wind plant, the five-turbine Block Island Wind Farm in Rhode Island. Credit: Newsday / Mark Harrington

East Hampton Town Trustees approved a joint proposal with the owners of the South Fork Wind Farm, clearing another big hurdle for a hotly contested 4.1-mile cable from beneath the Atlantic through the hamlet of Wainscott.

In a 7-0 vote, the trustees on Monday approved the so-called joint proposal filed in September in the name of holding company Deepwater Wind South Fork, a joint project by Denmark-based Orsted and Connecticut-based Eversource.

Trustee Francis Bock, clerk of the nine-member East Hampton town body, which owns the beach at the end of Beach Lane said the trustees gave their approval after the companies complied with numerous information requests about construction of the 138,000-volt cable, which would enter New York State waters three miles due south of Wainscott’s Beach Lane, and wend its way on land to a LIPA substation in East Hampton.

"In my view they were very cooperative with our requests," Bock said of Orsted. "I can’t think of anything they didn’t comply with."

The trustees will share in a $29 million host-community benefits package Orsted agreed to pay for easements to lay the cable on town roads and rights of way. The town board is expected to vote on the proposal in coming weeks.

"Their support is just another example of the continued consensus in East Hampton and across New York about the importance of advancing this project," said Orsted-Eversource spokeswoman Meaghan Wims. The state Public Service's approval is pending.

But there's far from a consensus of support. Opponents of the project took issue with the trustees' approval and charged the beach isn’t theirs to give away. In a statement Wednesday, the group called on the town and trustees to "stop their reckless actions and duplicitous sell-out of the Wainscott community."

A spokesman said the Wainscott group has conducted research and is preparing legal action to prove the trustees do not own the beach. Countered Bock, "We claim we own the beach. We have a patent. Let them prove otherwise."

It's not just 1,300 people in Wainscott who oppose the cable plan. Commercial fishermen have not signed on to the proposal, and many take issue with its claim of a compensation plan for fishermen impacted by the work, as well as Orsted's promise of "industry-leading" environmental assessments, including a five-year $5 million fisheries study program.

"The fisheries mitigation and compensation plan is insufficient for Long Island fishermen," said Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, an industry group. She called the publicly filed settlement proposal the product of a "public-relations machine of a multibillion-dollar foreign government owned company."

Some fishermen say even survey work being conducted for the project has already led to gear losses. Vinny Damm, one of Long Island’s dozen or so remaining lobstermen, said an Orsted survey boat plowed through a set of 15 lobster pots and other equipment where he fishes off the South Shore, leading to thousands of dollars in gear losses. He said he’s had difficulty getting necessary information from Orsted to file his claim, which he nevertheless filed this week.

"We can’t get the answers," he said, adding that increased traffic from the wind-farm boats is limiting his fishing grounds. "We’re pretty much in a little box we can fish in and it keeps getting smaller and smaller and smaller."

Jim Auteri, another lobsterman who was also preparing a claim, said he’s lost a total of 20 lobster pots to the survey boats. "There’s no accountability," he said. "They told me I didn’t have to move my gear for their survey work, then they ran over my gear and they lied to me," saying they didn’t.

Wims, the Orsted-Eversource spokeswoman, called the company's compensation program "industry-leading, robust, and fair," one she said was created "with input from the fishing community." Fishermen can appeal any decisions rendered by Orsted, she said.

"To date, no claim, regardless of disposition, has been appealed which shows the process is working and fishermen are satisfied with the process," Wims said, noting that Orsted has received "very few gear claim applications."

Julie Evans, a member of East Hampton Town's Fisheries Advisory Committee and a fisheries representative to Orsted, said she worries the process for repaying fishermen is "very arbitrary," particularly since it doesn’t include lost time and fuel costs related to days’ work lost.

The Orsted proposal includes a pledge to conduct five years of fisheries studies valued at $5 million, to monitor electromagnetic fields from the cable, to bury the 138-kilovolt cable to a minimum 6-foot depth as it enters state waters three miles from the Wainscott shore; to bury it to a 9-foot depth below the surface as it reaches the near-shore surf zone, and 30 feet under the beach, according to papers filed by the company.

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